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QB Primer: Following the Peyton Principle is no passing fancy

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade
Peyton Manning
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If there in Round 2, Peyton implores you to draft him. 

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Almost universally fantasy ‘experts,' both actual and self-proclaimed, have crammed the same, tired strategy down your throat when approaching quarterbacks this season:

WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!

A mountain of supportive evidence and the seemingly endless supply of useful QBs, they say, proves the strategy’s validity. By simply streaming the position, an exercise that sounds great in theory but in reality is more difficult to successfully execute especially in leagues where resources are scarce, one can stockpile talent at more volatile positions on draft day such as running back and wide receiver while maximizing passer matchups in-season. Staunch believers say it’s practically a foolproof plan. Hawk the wire, play the odds and, Voila!, a celebratory Drake-kicks-beats-on-stage-while-Johnny Manziel-rolls-twenties-in-the-bathroom victory party ensues. Last season, the emergence of Nick Foles and Josh McCown and even the occasional serviceability of guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel and, during the fantasy playoffs, Geno Smith were testaments.

When properly implemented the slow-your-roll approach at QB can work. Several years ago, I improbably won a league riding the lukewarm hand of Jon Kitna. And it wasn’t the employable Detroit, Cincinnati or Dallas incarnations either. A ‘mesmerizing’ 340-yard, 0-TD effort by the then Seattle QB at Tennessee (Week 16, 2001) was enough to push me over the top. Of course, the rest of that championship team was loaded. Some members were drafted, others were plucked off waivers.

And therein lies the problem with the late-round or streaming QBs game-plan. Sure you can build depth, but pushing the right buttons, whether at QB or elsewhere, is the only way to ensure sustained winning. Luck plays an equal part to skill.

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For those who prefer safety to risk, this year subscribe to the Peyton Principle.

If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the idea of bucking the trend and drafting a top-tiered QB (e.g. Peyton, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers) within the first couple rounds of 12-team drafts.

Why?

Holed up in a cave supplied only with a calculator, virtual spreadsheet and cooler full of barley pops, string cheese and Bugles, I’ve unearthed indisputable evidence that supports the above notion.

Apologies late-round QB enthusiasts.

PROCEDURE

• Study was conducted using historical ADP data (2009-2013) pulled from MyFantasyLeague.

• Player end-season rank was based on a non-PPR, 12-team league and sorted by fantasy points per game.

• Bust rate refers to players drafted within a tier (e.g. RB1, RB2, QB1, QB2, etc.) that failed to finish top-15 (for QB1/RB1) or top-28 (QB2/RB2) in fantasy points per game.

• Injuries were taken into account. Any player that played eight or fewer games was deemed a ‘bust.’,

• Because of the structure, a handful of players may be considered misidentified. Guys like Rashad Jennings, who was a highly effective RB2 in spurts last season, did not factor. His overall fantasy points per game fell short. Same goes with injury-impacted performers (e.g. Shane Vereen) who didn’t meet the required games played threshold. Again, this is an exercise in relation to where players were selected on draft day and where they ultimately finished.

• Boom rate denotes players in the QB2, RB2-RB3 or WR2-WR3 ranges that greatly exceeded expectation (e.g. finished a full tier ahead of where drafted)

• SS details shocker specials drafted beyond pick No. 100 overall or were plucked off waivers who churned out starter-worthy production (QB1, RB1-RB2, WR1-WR3) in 12-team leagues (e.g. Zac Stacy last year).

RESULTS 

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Stats don't lie. QBs are safe. 

Stats don't lie. QBs are safe. 

• Over the five-year span analyzed, QB1s, at least those perceived on draft day, tallied an average bust rate of 21.7 percent, QB2s 33.3 percent per year.

• Among signal callers, 2.4 players per year boomed. Remember, these were guys drafted in the middle rounds that jumped a tier or two from draft day.

• A minuscule 1.4 passers per year, mined from waivers or beyond pick No. 100 overall, finished inside the position’s top-15 in per game average. In other words, the Nick Foles of the world are a rarity.

• Running backs selected as RB1s busted on average 43.3 percent per year, RB2s 45.0 percent. That’s 5.2 and 5.0 rushers, respectively, on average per year. Mind-blowing.

• Just shy of five (4.6 to be exact) of ‘middling’ RBs achieved boom status. Unsurprisingly, because of the unknown factor, many were rookies. Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell were prime examples last year.

• On average 4.2 RBs per year picked outside the top-100 overall or rescued from the free agent pool reached starter levels.

• Across the board, WRs were arguably the most volatile of the bunch. WR1s posted a bust rate of 36.6 percent per year, WR2s 46.7 percent and WR3s 46.7 percent. Josh Gordon has better odds of passing a bong hit than you do not drafting a lemon somewhere at WR. Ok … maybe not.

• Almost six wideouts (5.6) boomed per year. Gordon spearheaded the charge in 2013. Other members of the group were Antonio Brown, Anquan Boldin, Eric Decker and DeSean Jackson.

CONCLUSION

When compared to high-priced options at RB and WR, positions where replacement value is easier to come by, the evidence overwhelmingly favors grabbing a reliable quarterback early. It makes sense, even if you're a strong streaming advocate. Yes, (insert widely available QB) could shred Dallas' overly generous defense any given week, but ultra-elite passers offer week-to-week consistency, high floors and overall trustworthiness. Unpredictable waiver options typically don't (See Kirk Cousins Week 16 last year). Why count on a waivers dice roll when you can trot out Brees who scored at least 20 fantasy points in 14 of 16 games last year? Last year, 60.8 percent of Yahoo champs had Peyton on roster. The highest RB, Jamaal Charles, was on 34.8 percent of trophy-hoisting teams. Incontestably, No. 18 was a difference-maker. 

Of course, the above revelations foster the question, "Does this mean I have to take a QB in Round 1?" Negative. Because typical leagues will continue to adhere to the ‘patience’ theory, it’s entirely conceivable you could go top-flight RB with your first pick and either Peyton/Brees/Rodgers in Round 2. Heck, the latter pair have tumbled into Round 3 in several mocks suggesting you could go RB-RB and still score a safe passer.

For an ‘expert’ draft submitted to Rotoworld’s Fantasy Football preview mag in June, I put the Peyton Principle into practice. My first eight selections: (12-team, PPR, from No. 5 spot): Montee Ball (RB1), Peyton (QB1), Antonio Brown (WR1), Shane Vereen (RB2), Jordan Cameron (TE1), Kendall Wright (WR2), Brandin Cooks (WR3) and Bernard Pierce (FLEX). Not too shabby. Once a wait-on-a-QB advocate, I’m now officially a convert.

No two leagues, in terms of scoring, size and owner psychology, are ever the same, but according to the facts presented above, smart money says air-it-out early in your draft.  

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Below are eight pressing questions about QB nearing draft season.

Peyton Manning is a lightning rod topic in fantasy circles nowadays. He was solid, but not outstanding in his first year with the Broncos before exploding for a record-smashing 55 TDs last year. Sans Eric Decker and with a stronger defense behind him, over/under 42.5 passing touchdowns.  

Brad – OVER. Old No. 18 is bound to regress, but don't expect his numbers to plummet. Yes, Denver should be more run-heavy and boast a stronger defense, but a reduction of 50-60 attempts should still land Peyton in range of 43-45 TDs with 5,000 yards. Even with the loss of Decker, he has a stockpiled arsenal. 

Brandon – OVER. Obviously, teams facing Denver in '14 will have spent an awful lot of time watching tape of the '13 season (and especially the Super Bowl film) trying figure out a way to slow Peyton and Co. down. And I think there will be some success in that department - teams with physical corners and/or great pass rushes will obviously try to emulate Seattle's success with pressing receivers at the line. But, thast said, I don't think Manning will lose more than a dozen TD passes of his '13 mark.

Andy – UNDER. Do I think it's possible? Sure. Peyton has topped this number twice in his 16-year career. But this is a ridiculous projection for any QB. Only five passers in NFL history have exceeded this number in any season. Basically, everything needs to go right in order to reach 42+ TD passes. That's a silly thing to forecast.

BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Nick Foles, who is going inside the top-10 in most drafts coming off an unreal 27:2 TD:INT split, maintains his QB1 status in 12-team and deeper leagues.

Brandon – BELIEVE. Listen, Foles is no fluke. Nor is the offense a fluke. Chip Kelly's system delivered the second-most yards from scrimmage per game in just his first season of implementation. Foles should be much more comfortable as the leader of this offense in his second year of running things. Sure, there was luck involved, but it's important to remember that, in terms of fantasy points per game, Foles ranked behind only Peyton Manning at QB from Week 5 (when he really took over as the starter) through the end of the season. He'd have to fall a long way to drop out of the top 12.

Andy – NO. NUH-UH. NOT HAPPENIN'. NO. Look, he's fine. Foles is a nice quarterback directing a great offense. But if you didn't see the extraordinary luck in his season, you just weren't watching. He has his limitations, and I'm not a huge fan of his receiving corps — it's all sleepers and no real stars.

Scott – BELIEVE, because I believe in Chip Kelly. And what's troubling about the supporting cast? DeSean Jackson is very replaceable, and they've done a good job adding weapons (Darren Sproles and Jordan Matthews come on board, and Jeremy Maclin returns). 

Robert Griffin III, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, among others, caused nothing but heartache for those who invested in their services last year. Who is your BIGGEST BOUNCE BACK CANDIDATE?

Andy – Oh, this is easy. JAY CUTLER. If he gives us 14-15 games at the pace he was maintaining before the groin injury, then he'll be a fantasy beast. Add his fantasy points to Josh McCown's last year and you've got a top-5 quarterback.

Scott – RYAN is such an easy play this year. Everything went wrong in Atlanta last year, especially the injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White. The offensive line was a mess. Regression is a positive term, too. 

Dalton – BRADY. I really like all of these options, so I see no wrong answer here. I also appear to be out on a limb when it comes to Brady, but this is one of the best QBs in the history of the NFL who got 8.24 YPA with a 21:6 TD:INT ratio over the final 10 games last season (without Rob Gronkowski for half of those contests) and should have MUCH better weapons in 2014.

[Ed. note from Brad. "Bounce Back" is a description that shouldn't apply to Cutler. I like him to a certain extent this year, but he's never averaged more than 16 points per game in standard Yahoo formats as a Bear. In fact, only once in his career has he finished inside the QB top-11. Behrens, I also hear one-hit wonder Chumbawamba is due for a comeback.]

Fears are palpable regarding Cam Newton’s surgically repaired ankle. After all, his contributions on the ground drive his overall value. Over/under 629.5 rushing yards for the Panther this fall.

Scott – Have to go UNDER. Quarterbacks almost always run less as they gain experience. Newton's the rare case of a QB who can withstand all the extra pounding, but he's still a wiser player today, and that pushes him under the number. 

Dalton – UNDER. I'm not extremely worried about his ankle, but Newton has barely averaged this total during his career (677.3), and that's with him never missing a single game, so the safe bet here is the under. Losing LT Jordan Gross to retirement certainly doesn't help.

Brad – UNDER. He was nowhere close to this number last year and coming off major ankle surgery certainly doesn't instill confidence he'll eclipse it this year. The Panthers will again feature a conservative offense, but I expect the three-headed ferret of DeAngelo, Stewart and Tolbert to do most of the ground pounding. Even 500 yards could be a stretch. 

[Ed. note from Andy, who was not originally assigned this question — Fears are *not* palpable regarding Cam. He's been cleared, he's working out, and no one expects him to be sidelined in camp. There's no reason for panic here. But in any case, the rushing yards aren't the thing. What you like here is that Cam and Tolbert own the goal-line.]

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What overlooked QB is the virtual game’s most undervalued?

Dalton – TONY ROMO. He's averaged 4,305 passing yards and 30 TD passes over the last three seasons despite missing a game last year, and yet, his ADP is outside the top-90 in Yahoo leagues. With pass-happy new OC Scott Linehan joining a Dallas team that projects to field a poor defense while playing in a division that should feature a bunch of shootouts, Romo looks like tremendous value.

Brad – TONY ROMO. Excluding his injury-shortened 2010, he's finished inside the position's top-10 in per game average every year since 2007. Consistency king. Because of Dallas' projected shoddy defense, the strong receiving cast around him and a unrestricted offseason under his belt, he very well could establish career benchmarks in several categories.  It's absurd he's the No. 11 QB off the board in standard Yahoo drafts (91.1 ADP).

Brandon – BEN ROETHLISBERGER. I'd offer up Tony Romo, but my colleagues already took care of that, so I'll go with Big Ben, who has been a QB1 level fantasy QB in terms of passing yards and TD passes per game for the past five years.

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Conversely, what gunslinger is the most overvalued?

Brad – NICK FOLES. After a divine season, the magic carpet ride will come to a screeching hault for the QB. Unless Jeremy Maclin miraculously stays healthy or rookie Jordan Matthews pays an instant dividend, it will be hard for Philly to fill the void left by DeSean Jackson. Foles' 9.1 YPA from a season ago is completely unsustainable. In many cases the fifth or sixth passer drafted in many leagues, he's a solid, not sensational, option. A final line in range of 4,100 combined yards and 25-27 TDs feels right. 

Brandon – TOM BRADY. He ranked 21st in fantasy PPG among those quarterbacks that played at least seven games last season (which put him behind Sam Bradford). And his supporting cast at WR still looks a bit suspect. Also, he's going to be 37 years old in August, and his private QB coach has admitted this offseason that Brady has lost some arm strength and flexibility. I'd definitely rather wait for, say, Tony Romo or Ben Roethlisberger, among others, rather than use a top 60 pick on Brady.

Andy – FOLES, easy. He's barely on the radar for me in a 10 or 12-team league. Again, I really like the scheme and love the RBs, but I don't think he's quite as good as last year's stats.

[Ed. note from Pianow. Overrated/underrated is my catnip. If I were in on these questions, I would have called Phil Rivers underrated, Matt Stafford overrated.]

Gaze into the crystal ball and fearlessly forecast Johnny Manziel’s stat line this season (Starts, pass yards, pass TDs, INTs, rush yards, rush TDs, number of published party photos)

Brandon – Unfortunately, the Dawg Pound faithful are stuck dealing with a pile of dog crap at receiver this season. That's going to kink Manziel even if his off-the-field lifestyle doesn't. He's going to have to use those legs an awful lot, and that's a scary proposition for an quarterback's health, let alone one so slight of build. I'll go with 12 starts, 2,650 passing yards, 550 rushing yards, 16 TD passes, 13 interceptions, 4 rushing TDs.

Andy – Have we not had this discussion already, maybe more than once? Back in May, my projection was 3,040 yards, 19 TDs, 18 INTs, 485 rush, 3 TDs. Today, I'm not sure he'll get enough starts to deliver those not-entirely-stellar numbers. I'm beyond caring about what you guys do with Manziel. There's no way I'm buying a ticket for this carnival ride.

And another thing: I think I'd rather have Bridgewater in a dynasty draft. He's the best college QB that I saw last year.

Scott – I'm worried about his 6-0, 210-pound frame taking all those hits. Anyway, Fearless Forecast: 13 starts, 3045 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 418 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, countless Nada Surf references.

Play the Powerball. What late-round lottery ticket (120-plus ADP) could have deep-leaguers rolling in greenbacks come year’s end?

Andy – Gimme the guy who actually finished as a top-5 quarterback last season in fantasy: ANDY DALTON. Sure, I think Cincinnati will dial back the pass attempts a bit, but we're still talking about a guy who has AJ, Gio and Marvin as his primary receivers. Dalton will continue to pile up TDs. My advice: Own but don't watch.

Dalton – ANDY DALTON. Eli Manning would be a close second for me, but even after factoring in some major regression for Dalton, with Cincy likely to run the ball far more this season, he's still someone who finished as a top-five fantasy QB last season and has A.J. Green at his disposal. But I do fully understand why few expect anything close to a repeat in 2014. I certainly don't. 

Brandon – RYAN TANNEHILL. I've already discussed the impact Chip Kelly's system had on Nick Foles. Now Ryan Tannehill is being asked to drive a similar offensive engine. As a backup plan at your fantasy QB spot, it's worth rolling the dice to see if Miami can capture what the Eagles did last season.

Brad – MANZIEL. Like an annoying song on repeat, I've talked up JFF all offseason. I'm confident he wins the starting gig out of camp and tallies dazzling, top-12 numbers even sans Gordon. His fondness for spontaneity greatly resembles the 2012 version of RGIII, a QB who will run early and often. Considering Kyle Shanahan is Cleveland's OC, the offense certainly supports the comparison. He will soon be a very valuable trade chip. 

Scott – ANDY DALTON is the obvious answer here; he's done it before, he has a bunch of terrific targets, and he's just over the ADP threshold for the question. If you need to dig deeper, look at one of the QBs who is likely to run a lot (or at least score on the ground a lot), say Manziel or one of the Jets. 

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise

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